Tackling big tillers, and top considerations when buying or renting.
When my wife and I purchased our rural land, we had several plans to develop and enhance the property. We discussed gardens, food plots for wildlife, and even the possibility of planting a vineyard.
Sitting around the dinner table, we drew maps with the locations for our projects on paper, and even laid out plot sizes. A 3-acre vineyard would allow us to plant a few hundred grape vines of different varieties, and we designated spots for a couple of 1-acre food plots for wildlife. We also wanted a garden — a big garden — for all sorts of vegetables that we never had room for in town.
After staring at the layout of our upcoming projects, a sudden wave of reality set in. We had designed more than 5 acres of land to get ready for planting, and in its current state, it was overgrown with weeds and thick prairie grass. Its soil hadn’t seen a plow in 15 years. I planned to spray a broad-spectrum herbicide in the spring to get rid of the unwanted weeds, and we owned an 8N Ford with a two-bottom plow that would break up soil. But to get ready for spring planting, it would take a lot more work and equipment.
I couldn’t wait to start working the land in the spring, and after spraying and plowing the plots, I started using a small disc that could be pulled behind my ATV to break up the plowing. Frustration quickly set in, as even working the small garden plot required hours of passing over the plowing with the disc that still left many clods that would impede planting.
I have a small walk-behind tiller that I used on my small garden in town, so I decided to start working the garden plot with the tiller. After spending another couple of hours with the small tiller, with less than desirable results, I knew I had to find an alternative. I stopped by our local farm implement dealer and asked about renting a PTO-mounted tiller. Because my 8N does not have a “live” PTO, he suggested I rent a small tractor with a PTO-mounted tiller that would do most of the work I had in mind.
I rented the tractor, tiller, and trailer for one day and was able to disc my garden and two food plots with ease. I also spread some fertilizer and lime to amend the soil, and incorporated the additives with the tiller. The rental wasn’t inexpensive — I paid 250 dollars for one day of use — but I didn’t see any other alternative if I wanted to get my various projects planted in time.
It has been 17 years since that first year of breaking up the soil on our land, and since that time I have purchased a tractor and PTO-mounted tiller and have found both to be invaluable to me when working our property. If you find yourself needing to till land in areas larger than a small garden, tow-behind tillers and tractor-mounted PTO-driven tillers may be a great option for you.
Tillers have a variety of uses and come in many shapes and sizes. Regardless of the size of tiller, they all share a basic design that uses spinning tines or blades that are mounted on a central shaft that is driven by a transmission powered by either its own mounted engine or an outside power source such as a tractor’s PTO. Besides breaking up soil for planting, tilling soil increases soil aeration, and the turning blades are great for incorporating not only fertilizer but organic material like compost or manure into the soil.
Tow-behind tillers were designed for people who need a powerful tiller but perhaps don’t have a tractor with a PTO, or those who need to use the tiller in tight, tough-to-get-at places. Tow-behind tillers have the distinct advantage of being able to be pulled by a variety of equipment such as garden tractors, ATVs, UTVs, and even small utility tractors.
If you are not familiar with a pull- or tow-behind tiller, think of your walk-behind tiller but with a lot more power. You may find walk-behind tillers in power ranging from as little as 1/2 horsepower all the way up to 12 horsepower. Most pull-behind tillers are going to be in the 12 horsepower range, but they have the distinct advantage of not having to use their power to also propel the tiller. Tow-behind tillers can devote all of their torque to the task of turning the tines, which equates to more power to break up hard, compacted soil. Tow-behind tillers also have the advantage of covering a lot more area per tilling pass. They come in tilling widths in the neighborhood of 36 to 48 inches, and most attach via a standard hitch-pin setup.
Tow-behind tillers’ versatility really comes into play when you have hard-to-reach areas, such as food plots that are off the beaten path, and several models come with pneumatic tires that allow you to safely travel over uneven ground. Most have the ability to adjust the depth of till — though limited — by several inches.
If you are considering purchasing or renting a tow-behind tiller, you should carefully consider what your needs are.
How much horsepower do I need? Am I mainly using it to break up new soil, or will I be mostly doing maintenance on existing land?
What are you going to be attaching the tiller to? ATV, UTV, or your garden or other small tractor? What kind of hitch system do I have or will I need?
Can I get by with a 36-inch tilling width, or do I need a 48-inch?
If you are doing remote plots, what type of tires are on the unit? Getting a flat tire a mile off the road can be a real pain. Match the tires to your usage.
Should I rent or purchase the tiller? If you are going to be using the tiller on a consistent yearly basis, you may want to consider purchasing, as rental costs on tow-behinds can be expensive, and you could justify purchasing one if you rent too often.
PTO tractor-mounted tillers
If you currently own or are thinking about purchasing a compact or mid-size tractor, you may want to consider adding a three-point hitch mounted rotary tiller. The benefit of using your tractor’s PTO power and hydraulic three-point hitch to get your tilling work done is that it’s fast and efficient. About the only disadvantage of a tractor-mounted tiller is that they require a fairly wide-open area to operate in, so tight spaces can be a hindrance.
Tractor-mounted tillers are available in a variety of sizes to match tractor horsepower and category of hitch. From subcompact tractors with 16 horsepower to full-size 100 horsepower tractors, there is a tiller that is designed to fit your needs. Most tillers can be purchased in width sizes to match the tractor’s wheel width for one pass tilling. The depth of the till can usually be set by adjusting the shoes on the tiller and with additional control with the tractor’s hydraulic system.
PTO-driven tiller considerations
When looking for a tractor-mounted PTO-driven tiller, there are some basic considerations.
If you have a tractor already and are looking to add a tiller, make sure you match the horsepower rating of the tiller to your tractor’s capability. Putting too big of a tiller in horsepower rating on a smaller tractor can create serious problems for both the tractor and tiller. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on tiller and tractor pairing.
What type of work will you be using the tiller for, and how often? Tractor-mounted tillers come in many flavors and durability levels. You may pay more for a heavy-duty tiller but you may be able to get a lifetime out of a lighter-duty tiller based on use. Will you be breaking new soil every year and tilling heavy crop residue, or will your use be more moderate?
What type of drive system does the tiller have? Chain drives and gear and shaft drives are the standard options. While chain-driven systems function well, gear drives tend to be heavier built and stand up to more rugged use.
Does it have a slip clutch or use a shear pin? A slip clutch allows the tiller to disengage when it encounters a solid object such as a rock or large root. This saves excessive damage to the gear box of the tiller and mitigates the stress that can be placed on your tractor. Shear pins are a “bolt” that is designed to break if it encounters damaging torque. With a slip clutch, you can back up or lift the tiller with the hydraulics, and you are on your way. If you break a shear pin, you had better have a spare pin with you, or you’re done for the day.
As with a tow-behind tiller, determining if you should rent or purchase a PTO-driven tiller really depends on the amount of use. Renting a tiller can be expensive, plus you have to trailer your tractor to the rental shop, hook up the tiller, load up, and drive back to your location. It doesn’t take but one or two trips before your time and effort outweigh the cost of ownership. If it is truly a one-time project, then maybe renting is the way to go.
Tillers can be one of the most versatile tools that you will ever use on your farm or rural property. Regardless of the type of tiller you choose, your tiller will help you minimize the time and effort involved in soil preparation, readying seed beds, or providing non-chemical weed reduction.
Consider plowing with pigs — you don’t need a tractor to get the crops planted.
Tim Nephew is a freelance writer who lives in Minnesota, where he owns and maintains 80 acres for wildlife to enjoy. He contributes regularly to the pages of Grit, as well as our sister publications, including Mother Earth News.
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Making the Cut – Which Compact Tractor Mower Is Right for You?
At Farm Tech Supplies, we stock three main types of mower, namely finishing, topper and flail mowers. All three types we stock are generally designed to attach to the back of a compact tractor via. the 3-point linkage and are powered using the tractor’s PTO. There are also sub-types within these categories, so it can be hard to decide which is best for you. Your questions will be answered here.
Finishing Mowers – The Lawncare Specialist
As the name would suggest, finishing mowers, such as those from Winton or Agrint, provide a close and fine finish. They are ideal for regularly maintained grass such as sports pitches and golf courses. Finishing mowers can also be used on paddocks or pastures that have been recently topped.
There are three long flat blades, which spin on a spindle hub assembly through the centre of the blade. The length of the blades depends on the size of the machine and our finishing mowers have 3 belt driven blades on each. For this reason, the land you are cutting must be level. If you have lots of lumps and bumps where you are cutting this may be better suited to a topper mower or flail mower with a raised cut.
Topper Mowers – The Paddock Slasher
Toppers are useful not only as a general use mower, but also for preparing scrub and long grass for cultivation. It cannot achieve the fine finish of a finishing mower, but can tackle overgrown areas with weeds and brambles making it perfect for paddocks. Unlike the finishing mower, the topper has two long flat blades attached at each end to the blade shaft in the centre of the machine. It cuts with a rotary action, like the finishing mower. The grass and weeds are sliced or ‘topped’ by the mower which is where the name topper comes from. Most cuttings are thrown to the sides of the machine and left in rows along the skids rather than spread out and mulched up like a flail mower.
Farm Tech Supplies currently stocks both Winton and Fleming Topper Mowers. These are typical PTO-driven topper mowers, but we also have the Wessex ATV Topper Mower, which has its own powered petrol engine. This means it does not require a PTO connection to function so can be towed on a traditional ball hitch by an ATV quad bike, 4×4 vehicle or UTV rather than a tractor.
Flail Mowers – The All-Rounder
Flail mowers are a great all-rounder, as they can maintain shorter grass, though not as finely as a finishing mower, but are also capable of cutting through tougher plant material. The cuttings are finer than with the other machines so they can easily be repurposed as mulch. The flail blades are attached to a cylinder rotor shaft in a spiral formation, which spins in a and creates the flail motion. Most flails have heavy hammer flail blades fitted and some flails, like the Winton Hedge Cutter. may instead use lighter Y-blades.
Flail mowers are our most popular compact tractor attachment and so you will find the greatest variety of brands, pricing and offset options when looking at the machines, so it can be tricky to decide! We stock standard flail mowers from Winton and FTS as well as compact flail mowers from Winton and Agrint for smaller or low horse-power tractors. As with the topper mowers, the flail has an option which does not require a tractor, the FTS ATV Flail Mower. Side-shift flail mowers, such as those from Winton and Agrint, offer greater dexterity compared to a standard flail. This is because they can be offset to the side, manually in the case of the Agrint ranges, and using the hydraulics of the tractor with the Winton. Arguably the most versatile is the Winton Verge Flail Mower, which can be offset like a side-shift flail, but also tilted to mow ditches, verges and even the sides of small hedges.
In our blog, Flail Mowers – How, Where and Why? we took an in-depth look at the flail mowers available from us, so if you have further questions about flail mowers you may find them there.
What To Know About PTO Wood Chippers
A PTO wood chipper is one that mounts on a tractor. powerful than a gas or electric chipper, you can bring it places other chippers won’t go.
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Yearly brush clearing has become a necessity in wildfire-prone areas, especially the Western states. Most people need a wood chipper to process all that brush.
If you own a tractor with a power takeoff (PTO) shaft, as most have, a mobile PTO wood chipper can be a useful accessory. This way, you can take the chipper to the wood rather than the wood to the chipper, while also giving you more power. Some PTO chippers can handle logs up to eight inches in diameter, better than any electric wood chipper and most standalone gas-powered ones.
A tractor can access parts of a wooded property a truck can’t. That makes a PTO chipper handy for anyone with a large property, whether in a fire zone or not.
What Is a PTO Wood Chipper?
A PTO wood chipper attaches to the PTO drive shaft that extends from the rear of most tractors. It draws its power from the tractor engine. Once engaged, it creates chips by spinning a heavy flywheel that may do the cutting, or connect by gears to a drum at the base of the hopper that does the cutting.
Though some PTO chippers can be towed, most attach directly to a tractor’s mounting brackets. All have a fixed in-feed hopper (adjustable on some models) and an out-feed chute, usually adjustable to allow you to direct the chips into a pile or onto a truck.
Most PTO chippers require at least a 15 horsepower (HP) engine, so they won’t work with lawn tractors and other smaller models. Larger chippers often need 30 HP or more.
What Is a PTO Wood Chipper Used For?
A PTO wood chipper turns piles of branches into wood chips that you can take away or leave on the forest floor to decompose. You may need a PTO wood chipper for these tasks:
- To clear your property of burnable brush;
- To get rid of brush piles that attract rats and other pests;
- To efficiently trim shrubs, small trees and other unwanted growth;
- To produce mulching material for your garden;
- To produce wood chips for landscape features like walkways.
If you own a tractor or are considering buying one, there are two reasons for considering a PTO chipper over a standalone gas or electric one: mobility and power. Because they draw power from the vehicle engine, PTO chippers are among the most powerful you can buy. That’s important if you’re dealing with large branches. Looking for more options? Check out this subcompact tractor.
Types of PTO Wood Chippers
There are two types: those with a shredder, and those without. Models with shredders feature finer knives and produce smaller chips than those without. Because of this, they’re usually less powerful than models without shredders.
Is a PTO Wood Chipper Right For You?
PTO wood chippers are gas-powered or electric. Before you buy, consider these factors:
PTO Chipper Pros
- Best choice for large properties or those with rough terrain.
- No external fuel needed other than that you use for the tractor.
- powerful than other chippers.
PTO Chipper Cons
- Must own a tractor.
- Overkill for small properties with limited brush to clear.
- Not the best choice when you need a stationary chipper for producing mulch from small branches.
What to Consider When Buying a PTO Wood Chipper
Consider the following when shopping for a PTO wood chipper:
- Feed system: Some units have an onboard hydraulic pump to power an in-feed belt. Others don’t. The hydraulic system speeds up the process and can handle large logs. Self-powered in-feed systems are simpler and less expensive, but require more user effort and can handle logs only about four inches in diameter.
- Tractor compatibility: Not all wood chippers fit every tractor. Before you buy one, make sure it’s compatible with your tractor’s hitch type and power output.
- Weight: The flywheel is the heaviest part of the equipment. Most weigh about 200 pounds, but some are heavier. Before buying a large one, be sure your tractor can handle the weight.
- Adjustable chip size: Some chippers let you adjust the chip size, but not all.
- Cost: range from around 1,000 to more 20,000. The most expensive models handle the most heavy-duty work. A 3,000 to 5,000 model should work for most purposes.
Best PTO Wood Chippers
Best shredder model
The inexpensive Farmer Helper Chipper/Shredder features dual hoppers and a three-inch capacity. It requires only 15 HP, so it’s suitable for most small tractors. It has a changeable grate to control output size.
Best non-shredder model
The commercial grade WoodMaxx WM-8H can handle material up to eight inches in diameter. It’s good for tractors that can supply at least 19 HP, but works better at higher power. It comes with a three-point attachment, hydraulic feed and adjustable base. A reverse mode to back out stuck material is another handy feature.
Best high-end model
The Wallenstein 10-inch PTO Chipper features a hydraulic system that automatically adjusts the in-feed speed according to what you put into it. It costs nearly five times as much as most utility models and needs 90 HP to operate at maximum capacity. But it can handle 10-inch diameter wood, and includes a winch to pull in large logs.
Chris Deziel has been active in the building trades for more than 30 years. He helped build a small city in the Oregon desert from the ground up and helped establish two landscaping companies. He has worked as a carpenter, plumber and furniture refinisher. Deziel has been writing DIY articles since 2010 and has worked as an online consultant, most recently with Home Depot’s Pro Referral service. His work has been published on Landlordology, Apartments.com and Hunker. Deziel has also published science content and is an avid musician.